Friday, May 23, 2008

The Lone Feminist at Girls' Night: How Should We Talk to Non-Feminist Women?

Feminism's bad rap and the efforts to combat misconceptions about feminists are topics that have recently sparked a plethora of interesting discussions in different forums. Yet, conversations with the strange 'not a feminist, but...' women have nevertheless left me baffled in recent days. I am still wondering what to do when I find myself wanting to scream about something that strikes me as blatantly sexist, while the women around me smile pleasantly. How do I persuasively defend my feminist opinions in a society that labels all opinionated women 'bitches'? Perhaps non-feminist women have always been around, but it also seems like the leaders of the misogynistic backlash against Hillary Clinton's campaign have done an amazing job of overnight anti-feminist indoctrination, for the number of sexist sentiments expressed by the beneficiaries of feminism seems to be on the rise.

Clearly, we need to develop a strategy. We need guidelines for what to do when we find ourselves surprised by attitudes hostile to feminism. To begin, here are just a few examples taken from my own recent experiences that I'd like to discuss.

Scenario 1: "Women are bad at X because I am bad at X"
This is the toughest one I've had to face. "All women aren't stupid, just you," doesn't seem like the right thing to say. The misconception that any one woman's characteristics or weaknesses can be used as proof of the nature of the entire sex is so common that it has frequently been lampooned. But what do you do with this sentiment when it comes from a woman?The only thing I've found to be successful so far is to suggest that perhaps the speaker's deficiencies come not from some hard-wiring, but from something about her upbringing that encouraged her to focus her energies elsewhere. With a scientist friend, I said that if she couldn't find a biological mechanism for her 'women don't remember historical facts as well as men' theory, it was suspect. I then suggested that her lack of interest in history might be just a personal preference, or it might come from the type of books that are marketed as 'boys' books' vs. 'girls' books.' I was then stunned to hear her accept that the differences might be cultural rather than biological, only to claim five minutes later that women are bad a puns, because her boyfriend is better at them than she is. Argh. Does anyone else have other ideas?

Scenario 2: "Feminists devalue motherhood"
To this I pointed out that feminism is working to make motherhood easier for women because feminist do value motherhood. We value it enough to fight for affordable childcare, fair pay, health care, and paid maternity and paternity leave. This statement was immediately followed by:

Scenario 3: "All women must have paid maternity leave, because I had paid maternity leave"
A. Having to use all the sick leave and personal days you've accumulated over the years is not the same thing as paid maternity leave.
B. Maybe you've found a great company. But the U.S.A. has no law that mandates paid maternity leave, so many companies don't offer it. We're trying to fix that for all the women stuck in work environments that aren't as happy as yours.

Scenario 4: "But, I like feeling pretty!"
My gut instinct is to say something along the lines of, "yeah, being attractive sure is a lot of fun when your livelihood doesn't depend on your pretty face and girlish figure." Perhaps that's too combative. The truth is, though, that feminism has given women nothing but options, and the assurance that they cannot legally be pushed out of a job for being deemed unattractive by someone else. Turning that legal assurance into a practical one is a battle we're still fighting.

I want to be better prepared in the future, so I'm here to ask for help. What anti-feminist arguments have you faced, and how did you respond? Should we avoid snark, or embrace it? Has anyone already written a post on how to talk to non-feminist women that might serve as a good reference?

21 comments:

Dee said...

I have always wondered about the US' laws on paid maternity leave. Here we have 8 weeks paid and 4 weeks unpaid. See Maternity Leave in JA and we are classified as a Third World Country. America needs to wake up.

La Pobre Habladora said...

The fact that so many women don't know that maternity leave is so much better in other countries, and that there are people here fighting to make paid maternity a reality in the US as well, marks a tragic victory of the conservative party. Women don't demand better because they seem not to know that they've gotten a bum deal.

Casmall said...

HA! That cartoon is perfect! Where did you find it? It made me think of the new studies showing that boys are under performing in math and sciences. To most people this means that boys are being poorly taught or are unmotivated- but when girls were under performing that was just their nature.

La Pobre Habladora said...

I'd seen that cartoon on several sites, but couldn't seem to track it down when I needed it this morning. I finally did a search for 'you suck at math cartoon,' and snagged it from here, a nifty site called Zero Divides.

mootpoint said...

These are good questions; I never know what to say in situations like those; I am so comfortably in my liberal arts bubble that when I hear women who are in law school dismiss a prof's feminism because they don't like her hair I am so shocked I kind of just sputter and then am shocked some more.

FYI, the original source for the math cartoon is here.

Sondra said...

Hey, just wanting to give credit where credit is due; the comic is originally from http://xkcd.com/385/ The archives are definitely worth checking out.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Thanks to pointing out the source of the cartoon - xkcd looks brilliant! This will give me hours and hours of fun... and hours.

the amazing kim said...

Woah woah woah! No one here reads feminist web comics? There's a bunch of gender students out there with multicolour pencils and a scanner.

Try Dinosaur Comics, Kate Beaton, A Softer World, Wonderella, Dresden Codak, Toothpaste For Dinner, and Perfect Stars. And there's probably a few others I haven't mentioned. A few hundred others. A few hundred thousand million billion...

yoshi3329 said...

um, as an antifeminist half the things you support we don't support. day care is one, and we don't need maternity leave from our jobs many of them are stay-at-home mothers. Everything that you feminists support we do not believe in. Feminism (we believe) stems from Marxism (Many ex-Marxists have told us) and Marxists don't believe in God or they want to destroy anything in reference to God so that alone keeps us from supporting anything you say or do.

Have a blessed day!

the amazing kim said...

Back on topic: would you believe that appealing to the principle of PHMT (patriarchy hurts men too) is effective in convincing non-feminists of men and women's unequal roles. (I know! You'd almost think there's some sort of pervasive system which privileges men's views over women's or something).

Otherwise I use my superhero skills of snark, sarcasm and history trivia. (Also known as: I don't go out much and I have a lot of spare time)

Apart from the usual beauty standards, extra housework, lower standards in men &c, the most common instances of women accepting outright sexism in conversations with me come in two categories: generalisation of the sexes and ignorance of the crime stats.

Reiterating the fact that there are 3 billion women in the world seems to help. Knowing that beauty stnadards for women are in constant flux helps. Being able to cite statistics (with references!), whenever someone says that a billion percent of all rape victims are psychotic liars helps very much.

Saying that guys should be able to care for their kids, and have emotions and not be teased for having long hair silently implies that women don't all have to stay at home with kids, or burst into tears every few minutes, or can wear short hair without being teased. Unfortunately I've found that talking about men is the best way to make people think about women. It's a slow evolution, but once you get a person thinking, you can talk to them in feminist frames.

Of course, I'm a spiky-haired bookish dyke, so people usually have certain expectations when they argue with me.

Anyway, time for me to go to bed, and leave this comment where it belongs - in moderation.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Yeah, sorry about that long sit in moderation - it's a holiday and I'm a late riser whenever I can be.

Opposition to feminism based on an aversion to Marxism strikes me as odd. Has anyone run across this before? 'God loves the patriarchy' isn't new maybe, but feminism as a Marxist brand of atheism? Is the assumption that all feminists are atheists supposedly supported by our work to gain rights for working women? What about women who HAVE to work (aka - most of them)? Are they atheists if they ask to be treated fairly?

And, Kim, I'm right there with you - I've also used 'the patriarchy hurts men too' reasoning when arguing with gender essentialist types. Sigh. I guess you gotta go with what works...

the amazing kim said...

You know what I haven't done much of lately? Fisking.
As we begin, let me extend a "good morning" to Yoshi (who I do hope returns to this excellent blog), and a curtsy to our kind host la pobre habladora.

um, as an antifeminist half the things you support we don't support.

There's no need to portray each "side" as a monolith. We're all just people, really.
Note: the use of the word "we" in this and subsequent paragraphs. Most feminists are generally reluctant to generalise over the entire movement (I did it just there), so this can be seen either as the result of an authoritarian mindset (where an opinion is only given validity if it is given by an authority figure), or of an individual trying to fluff themselves up like a frightened kitten.

day care is one, and we don't need maternity leave from our jobs many of them are stay-at-home mothers.

Though many women take extended leave to care for infants, many others don't have that option (as they do not have any other means of financial support), have a partner (or extended support group) who would prefer to raise the child, or just plain enjoy their jobs.

The extension of maternity leave rights to working mothers (who by far constitute the majority) does not detract any quality of life from those who want to be a homemaker. It does not affect homemakers at all. They can do whatever they want. But, they can go to work afterward if they feel like it.

The introduction of children into employees' lives should not destroy careers and send families into poverty (much like an unforeseen illness or a desire for a holiday every few months): it's a normal part of human life.

It's only because child-rearing was traditionally considered inferior work, relegated to a down-trodden part of the population that it isn't recognised as an essential part of life. This is why feminists support paid maternity and paternity leave - so families are not penalised for reproducing, and the work recognised for what it is.

Everything that you feminists support we do not believe in.

Now, you just said "half the things you support we don't support". Is it half or all? Shall we compromise and say that all anti-feminists don't believe 3/4ths of all feminists. Or 1/4 of anti-feminists don't believe all of what half the feminists say, while half don't believe 8/10ths of what they say feminists don't believe 100%.

Feminism (we believe) stems from Marxism (Many ex-Marxists have told us) and Marxists don't believe in God or they want to destroy anything in reference to God so that alone keeps us from supporting anything you say or do.

You don't have to be Marxist to be atheist. You don't have to be atheist to be feminist. There are plenty of religious feminists out there, and plenty of feminist Christian theology. Not to mention that it's not really fair to dismiss all feminism outright (from second-hand sources no less) without addressing a single one of its arguments, premises, or achievements. Personally, I don't really want to destroy all reference to any god, but I understand it's all a bit nuts in America.

Have a blessed day!
It's the middle of the night.

yoshi3329 said...

the amazing kim,

I see your mocking me, that's okay. In our opinion, motherhood was never mocked here in America until feminists said it wasn't worth women's time. I'm paraphrasing here but didn't Gloria Stenim say that staying-at-home was like living in a comfortable concentration camp? And that children were parasites? and that's just a few of what the anti-homemaker and anti-child feminists said.

We don't want jobs after we're finished raising our children. We want to continue to serve out husbands, our future grandchildren, the church and our community.

we still do not believe in child care we believe that it's unbiblical, we the bible states that Christian children are to have a Christian education by the parent (no one else)

There is no such thing as Christian feminists. Here in the antifeminist community we call it "whitewashed feminism". We do not believe that you can be a feminist and a Christian at the same time. (that's just our opinion)

Ex-Marxists have said that feminism stems from Marxism (I think that have better things to do than lie).

and when I said "have a blessed day" it was day. I guess we have different time zones.

May the Lord keep you.

Casmall said...

Yoshi,
I sure you can tell that your comments and opinions are quite different from those usually expressed here. We're happy to have you, you're welcome to say what you like, and you deserve to be debated respectfully.
Your ideas however, when illogical, do not deserve respect. Not all ideas or opinions are equal. I hope you don't mistake disagreement for mockery.

1) Many feminists are Christians. Unless you happen to be the one who gets to decide who gets to be a Christian and who doesn't. Are you?
2) Most feminists aren't atheists, have families, and are indeed homemakers. Unless you are the person who gets to define feminism as well.
3) How can you be an anti-feminist, yet believe in half of feminist goals? Is this the definition of anti-feminism? If I only believe in half the Republican platform this year am I an anti-Republican?

Its easy to make an enemy out of someone if YOU get chose what that person believes in or represents. You don't get to decide the definition of these things, and I hope when you start looking at the facts your opinion will start to change.

the amazing kim said...


I see your mocking me, that's okay.

I did not intend to mock you, or the concept of motherhood. I'm sorry if I gave that impression (though I understand you did come here with certain preconceptions about feminists and their values, and it much easier to find evidence to support a pre-existing view than to change the view itself. I do it all the time, I'm sure.)

In our opinion, motherhood was never mocked here in America until feminists said it wasn't worth women's time.

As you can tell, I'm not from America, but I doubt feminism there is different to anywhere else (maybe it has more cheese?). Feminists (in general!) think motherhood's very important! They think it's so important that everyone should be allowed to do it, no matter what gender they are. They've criticised society's view that "women's work" is unskilled work, non-essential work, or beneath the consideration of intelligent individuals. They challenge the view that it should be unpaid, and that it's natural for women to want to sacrifice their careers to do it. On the other hand, motherhood and house-wife-dom shouldn't have to be compulsory. Why forcing people to be wives and mothers when they dont wan to be? Better to let people do what they want, surely, and let motherhood be one of the options?

didn't Gloria Stenim say that staying-at-home was like living in a comfortable concentration camp?

Maybe you're thinking of "
Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defence, and as courageous as either one". Or maybe "
Most American children suffer too much mother and too little father".

The closest I can find is this: "A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual".

And that children were parasites?
If feminists say this, it's usually in reference to the biological effects of the fetus on the mother. Fetuses demand resources from the human body that would otherwise be used to the individual's own benefit. During pregnancy, bone may weaken as calcium is redirected, women feel fatigued, and in extreme cases, blood poisoning may occur.

We don't want jobs after we're finished raising our children. We want to continue to serve out husbands, our future grandchildren, the church and our community.

I'm curious how one can serve future grandchildren, but otherwise, that's nice. No one's forcing you to have a job after you have kids. But people shouldn't be forced to stay home either.

we still do not believe in child care we believe that it's unbiblical, we the bible states that Christian children are to have a Christian education by the parent (no one else)

I'd be interested to know the chapter and verse. Not to mention that plenty of people don't believe in the bible, shouldn't have to believe in the bible, and shouldn't have to completely change their lives because other people believe in the bible. And how to grandparents fir into it? Orphans? Parents who want to go see a film and leave the baby with friends? And at least child-care workers are trained to handle children, unlike parents.


There is no such thing as Christian feminists.


A lot of Christian feminists would disagree with you.

Ex-Marxists have said that feminism stems from Marxism (I think that have better things to do than lie).

And by implication, I am lying? That's rather rude. There are plenty of books and internet articles on the history of feminism. You don't have to rely on second-hand sources.

Anyway, time for breakfast.

yoshi3329 said...

I don't really see how I agree with half the things feminists say. How so?

Lynn said...

Well I had other thoughts but then I read through the comment thread and came to realize that once again we are dealing with generalizations and perceptions about what a feminist is, does, says, or believes in.

Gloria Steinem does not speak for me, and it is belittling in general to assume that any one figure represents the views of millions of diverse people.

Maybe you would understand it this way: does Hagee speak for every Christian? Did Falwell? Does McCain speak for every Republican? Aren't there times when an opinion is simply that...one person's opinion? How can we possibly debate every feminist variation? Generalizations are like shorthand. TIme savers for the disinterested.

My concern for maternity leave is rooted in the fact that I think women should have the option to be there for their newborn babies and reflects my desire to see society support a pro-child agenda as well as pro-women. There are some benefits, breastfeeding being a major one backed by medical evidence. But then that's not for everyone either.

Do I judge women who put their newborns in day care? No, these are choices. Wait...But are they really? Sometimes it is a choice..but is it a choice if a woman will be evicted if she cannot get that paycheck?

What I hear "women in the home" folks saying is that under their perfect model of family, these things all work out and staying married no matter what is also key to this formula. In this world view...There would be no single mothers, no need for health insurance if a spouse were to die, no need for extra income, no lay offs for a male breadwinner, and so on. Everything would work out if women knew and accepted the place dictated for them.

Well many people do not live in a "stay home" possible world. Each person has their own circumstances.

My problem with these remarks is that the scenario is based on a set of circumstances that are not always fitting.

That women CAN be home, nurture, serve their husbands, and church. Even if some women want to do that, isn't it possible that something can happen? Not that I agree that this is the only path anyway, just picking on that one point.

Did you ever hear a Christian say: "There, but by the grace of god- go I???"

See I don't say 'All Christians are ____ or believe this_____. I believe in respect. Live and let live.

FeministGal said...

This is a great post. I agree, strategy is key :)

yoshi3329 wrote: "There is no such thing as Christian feminists. Here in the antifeminist community we call it "whitewashed feminism". We do not believe that you can be a feminist and a Christian at the same time. (that's just our opinion)"

I may have missed something but i'm a bit confused as to who "we" are...? Are you talking about Christians? Because there are many women who in fact ARE both Christain and feminists. Some examples of merging these topics specifically, and blogs for you to possibly check out include:

http://christianfeminism.wordpress.com/
http://christianfeminist.blogspot.com/
http://achristianfeministjourney.blogspot.com/
http://jonathanstegall.com/2008/05/19/on-being-a-male-feminist/ (a MALE Christian feminist?! NO WAY!!)

Hopefully you walk away from here with the understanding that most things are not black and white and your own identity can be as complicated, or simple, as you allow it to be. Check out the blogs i listed, they may help guide your way. Good luck and G-d bless.

Anonymous said...

A SCIENTIST? Seriously? Isn't it enough to say to a scientist - "I assume you know that a sample size of one doesn't really tell you anything." Not to mention that women are generally considered "better" at the liberal arts like English and History and being "more verbal" as opposed to - SCIENCE. Maybe she just feels like saying the OPPOSITE of what everyone else is saying about innate abilities is different?

Lindsay said...

There is no such thing as Christian feminists.
I must not exist then, or many of the people I know at div school or from various religious communities who lead churches, work in non-profits, or teach about religion. We are rare anomalies that exist in the space between absolutes, apparently.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Feministgal, thanks for the links!

Anon, yeah - a scientist. This stuff is ingrained to the point that people just accept it, despite the fact that it conflicts with what their logic should tell them. This non-feminism baffles me most when it comes from people whose choices have been made possible through a lot of hard work by the generation that came before us. Sexism still plagues science, and you'd think that trying to combat the sort of 'women just go have babies, so aren't worth my time' stereotypes would bring people over to the cause.